Fall/winter 2010 menswear collections in Paris

Showmanship reigned as designers introduced their fall/winter 2010 collections in Paris.

Not Killing Kenny

Several of the looks from the Comme des Garçons Homme runway collection were accessorized with fur-lined funnel hoods reminiscent of “South Park’s” Kenny McCormick, the kid in the orange parka who suffers a gruesome demise in many episodes of the Comedy Central show.

As it’s hard to imagine designer Rei Kawakubo spending her evenings watching “South Park,” it’s a safe bet it was an unintentional pop-culture punch line. But the ill-fated Kenny could benefit from the Comme des Garçons collection, which riffed on notions of protection.

Padded, suiting-fabric vests that fastened with straps and utilitarian plastic buckles looked like upscale Kevlar body armor, a visual that was echoed in contrast taping behind the shoulders and at the small of the back of notch lapel jackets. Other jackets had padded chest inserts sewn in.

Similar buckles were cinched over shorts of various lengths, which were layered over trousers and gave the impression of protective wear -- a sort of suiting version of the apron chaps used by professional loggers.

Even the footwear seemed to have its defenses up, with traditional dress shoes protected by neon pink or green plastic toe caps held on by straps buckled around the heel.

The take-away? These days we’re all Kennys of one sort or another, and this is a wardrobe that can help us avoid becoming collateral damage before the next commercial break.

Going Holmes

Probably thanks in no small measure to the recent Robert Downey Jr.- Jude Law movie, John Galliano took inspiration for his collection from Sherlock Holmes, and the result was more like several mini collections, mining what the show notes described as “the polarized extremes of his psyche,” which turned out to be sleuthin’, fightin’ and smokin’ opium.

There was the traditional Sherlock Holmes silhouette -- layered military- and hunting-inspired pieces in wools and tweeds (and, of course, the obligatory deerstalker cap) and a smoked PVC raincoat that captured the essence of the swirling fog of London streets at night.

And there was Sherlock the fighting man, decked in pure fight-club fashion that wouldn’t look out of place in the modern world. In his show notes, Galliano cited the bare-knuckle Muay Thai style of martial arts as inspiration, and among his offerings were fleeced jersey pieces as short and skintight as traditional jockey shorts, others in nearly knee-length billowy silk, many with corset-like lacing detail and all in pops of vibrant reds, yellows, purples and greens. Longer silk trousers and kimono-like robes abounded with dragons and other Asian imagery.

But the real standout was Galliano’s subversive, updated take on the perfect British gentleman in the light of day: trim, sharply tailored, double-breasted wide-lapel, three-piece suits, shirts cuffed and starched. The buttoned-up, tightly wrapped feeling of keeping other parts of one’s psyche suppressed was telegraphed more overtly by the models who accessorized their dress shirt and tie ensembles with man corsets over top.

In a final take, Galliano mixed opium den with English gentleman. Traditional wool suit jackets were paired with floral-patterned silks and lapels embroidered with emerald, amethyst and jet.

Ever the showman, after the models’ final spin down the runway, the designer appeared behind a giant magnifying glass at the top of the stage. On cue, red flames burst from the runway and 6 feet into the air. As they subsided, he walked to the end of the runway and they blasted to life again.

Based on the evidence, is it safe to proclaim that John Galliano’s fall/winter runway is indeed, literally as well as figuratively, “so hot right now”?

It’s elementary, my dear Watson.

Fight Club

His new menswear collection makes one thing clear: Jean Paul Gaultier is spoiling for a fight. His Everlast-sponsored runway show was staged around a boxing ring in which corseted kickboxing ladies sparred while male models strutted fight-club-inspired fashion: layered pieces that included flowing, mesh tank tops, belted ringside robes, leather jackets and trousers with protective padding, drawstring jersey pants and zip-front hoodies. Chunky knit scarves emulated the look of sweat towels draped around the neck.

True to the theme, the collection emphasized the classic boxer’s physique of strong shoulders and upper torso, chunky cable-knit sweaters, leather motorcycle jackets, double-breasted, peak-lapel suits in sweatsuit gray jersey and even a few cape-like overcoats.

On the bottom, the Gaultier man was pared back and slimmed down, wearing skintight leather pants, baggy boxing shorts, sweat pants or Gaultier’s signature man skirts. (If you’re going to rock the man skirt, it can’t hurt to be schooled in the sweet science, no?)

As in the Dsquared “hockey horror” show in Milan a few days earlier, Gaultier’s models were styled to look like bruised and bloodied warriors, complete with black eyes, bloody noses and stitches, and at the finale, Gaultier himself came out looking like he’d gone a few rounds with Clubber Lang. With the John Galliano show also explicitly referencing fisticuff fashion, one had to wonder if there is an attempt by designers to underscore the masculine aspects of their collections and appeal to a wider customer base, or if it’s simply a subconscious expression of the pitched battle for survival we’re all feeling.

Casino Clowns

Coulrophobics probably won’t look kindly on New York-based menswear designer Adam Kimmel. Not that they’ll have an issue with the clothes in his collection. It’s the way he chose to stage it in a darkened art gallery in Paris’ 3rd arrondissement with a tableau of a dozen and a half creepy clown caricatures prowling a casino, playing baccarat, throwing dice and doubling down.

The presentation -- as well as the collection itself -- was inspired by George Condo, a New York City-based artist, and the characters that inhibit his oeuvre.

“He was one of my heroes growing up,” Kimmel said. “And as I got to know him, I found out what a character he really is. He’s this incredible gambler who spends his summers in Monte Carlo and has been known to stop off at the Empire Casino in Yonkers and play the slots. I’ve been there with him.”

The collection was not so much about how Condo actually dresses as how Kimmel liked to imagine he dresses -- velvet suits in gray, burgundy and green, velvet slippers, roulette, craps and baccarat prints on the backs of some pieces and on the linings of others.

Kimmel collaborated with Condo himself and Hollywood special effects prosthetic artist Gabe Bartalos (of the “Cremaster” and “Leprechaun” movies, among others) to spring the clowns from their frames and bring them to life. For pure jaw-dropping spectacle alone, Kimmel’s under-the-radar, over-the-top fall/winter presentation ranked right up there with productions of fashion week greats like Alexander McQueen and John Galliano. And that feeling of sartorial wizardry was reinforced when it later came to light that illusionist David Blaine, shown above, center, was among the masked models circulating through the room.

With this show, Kimmel may have hit the jackpot because, even if not a single soul who was there remembers the details of the clothes, they won’t soon forget his name.

Angels, Not Demons

Compared with previous seasons, Rick Owens’ collection felt like a breath of fresh air in a mausoleum, a ray of white light stabbing into the darkness. Whatever yin/yang analogy you use, his traditional heavy-handed march of the mutants seemed practically uplifting. Nay, spiritual.

Instead of monsters and demons garbed in blacker than black, Owens seemed to be sending his version of angels down the runway. Gleaming white trench coats, tailored white square-shouldered jackets that shimmered over camel-colored tunics, even the heavy clodhopper boots looked somehow lighter, the pale brown snakeskin seeming like baked meringue.

Backstage, the designer waved off any notion of trying to read a kinder, gentler Rick Owens in the catwalk tea leaves. “Yeah, last time I had lots of monsters on the runway,” he said with a shrug. “But I was just in the mood for a nice tailored jacket. The kind I’d like to wear. So that’s what I did.”